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A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Jeff and I will do anything for a friend in need.  I’d give the shirt off my back and walk around in my bra if a friend needed my shirt.  Recently Jeff and I helped a friend who is going to be moving to Texas but couldn’t afford the high cost of a moving van, plus gas, food and lodging.  So when we heard of our friend’s plight we said, “Hey! We’ve got a 33’ toy hauler just sitting around.  Why don’t we load her goods into the trailer and take a road trip to Texas! We’ll make a little vacation out of it!” So that’s what we did.  Little did we know, this would be an adventure on so many different levels!

It started with prepping the truck and trailer.  We haven’t used our toy hauler since we sold all the motorcycles and ATVs.  We used it once to take the Jeep out to Joshua Tree, but other than that, it’s been sitting in storage for four years.  To prepare, the truck gets a tune up, oil change and finally the seal of approval.  The trailer gets a cleanup, tires inspected, water tank filled, battery charged, poopy chemicals applied to the blank tank and it’s also ready to go.

Adventure #1:
The first day of our vacation is actually Memorial Day and we head down to our friend’s house in San Diego to load up.  She lives in a small house so we weren’t too concerned about running out of storage room in the trailer.  Heck if we fit the jeep in the trailer we can fit her small supply of household items!  So after all her boxes, night stands, dressers, boxes of clothes, kitchen stuff and various odds and ends are loaded we finish the load with the mattress and box spring.  The tailgate of the trailer is raised the inside boxes are secured and we’re just about ready.  We’re about to leave and I’m worried about the trailer backend hitting the house as we turn to leave.  So I get out and spot for the house.  We never even considered looking up!  It’s just been so long since we’ve used the trailer… So Jeff starts pulling away and he clears the house but little did I know that the trailer’s ladder hooked a cable line from the power pole above and it rips the ladder off the trailer.  Oooops.   The powerlines, telephone and cable lines are swinging wildly.  So Jeff gets out, throws the broken ladder into the trailer muttering profanities and away we go.  My bad!

Adventure #2:
We start heading out on the 8 east.  We’re laughing and having a grand ol time just shooting the shit as we drive.  The plan is to continue driving until we get to Tucson.  Well we’re just outside of Yuma Arizona when we hear an explosion.  Jeff quickly checks the dash of the truck, everything is A-OK. I look in the mirror and our trailer tire has literally exploded and is sending trailer fender and tire shrapnel all over the freeway.  So we pull over on a flat spot and begin the process of installing the spare tire.  We had these tires balanced and inspected by Discount Tire!  F%#K! Now we have an exploded tire, a broken fender and two bent supporting trailer frame brackets!  After the new tire is installed we have to make a committee decision.  Do we continue on to Tucson or drive back to Yuma? Technically we have one more spare tire as the truck uses the same bolt pattern as the trailer; so IF we continue and get another flat we’d still be good.  The other option is to head back to Yuma and get a new spare.  The consensus is to continue on to Tucson.

Adventure #3:
No sooner as we all pile back in the truck and begin our journey to Tucson, we hear a “Bing Bing Bing” and the Truck’s check engine light comes on.   MOTHER F%#KER! We have no idea what’s going on with the engine, all we envision is being stranded in the middle of the Arizona desert in 104 degree heat.  We make the decision to head back to Yuma and get new tires and have the truck checked out.  Unfortunately it is Memorial Day and 6:00pm at night so neither Chevy nor Discount Tire is open.  I found an RV park nearby and we stay the night.  Discount Tire opens the following morning at 8:00am and Chevy opens at 7:00am so we drop the trailer off at Discount and take the truck over to Chevy.  Two hours and $600 later the trailer has four new tires and the truck has a $125 inspection report that reads bad O2 sensor.  The technician clears the fault and tries to get the truck to duplicate the error and nothing happens.  We get the thumbs up from Chevy that the O2 fault must have been an old code and we finally head east.

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Adventure #4:
The road through Arizona’s desert is beautiful.  We make it without any troubles into New Mexico where we come across a train wreck.  There are two injured people in the derailment. I have never seen a train derailment in person and there are rail cars everywhere.  It’s truly a sight to see. I’m just glad that nobody was killed.

Adventure #5:
Just before Las Cruces New Mexico, we stop at the rest stop and I cook a spaghetti dinner.  We are all sitting out on the park benches of the rest stop enjoying dinner.  We see off in the distance a huge volume of black storm clouds accompanied by flashes of lightening.  We turn and in the opposite direction is another bank of storm clouds.  We pull up the MyRadar app and all we see are these two storms in red converging on one another.  The sheer scale of red “severe” weather is alarming.  So we finish dinner and begin to head out just as drops of rain are starting to fall.  HOLY MOTHER OF GOD; THE WIND!! THE RAIN!! THE LIGHTNING!! THE HAIL!!!  I have NEVER in all my life actually seen a storm of this magnitude.  Cars are driving at a crawl or either pulled over to the side of the road with their hazard lights flashing.  Our truck’s windshield wipers cannot keep up with the deluge!  The hail hitting the windshield and the hood is so loud we have to shout to each other to hear.  I would have taken a video of the storm but my hand was “white knuckled” on the Oh Shit bar of the truck.  As the hail continues to pour down, Jeff shouts “I hope our bathroom skylight isn’t broken!” I’m thinking, I hope we don’t die! Thankfully we emerge from the worst part of the storm after 20 minutes of pure hell.  Now we’re just getting a steady rain with the occasional flash of lightning.  To say we were all “Scurd” is an understatement.  There was definite pucker factor going on big time!

Adventure #6:
As we leave the outskirts of Las Cruces, I lean over to look at the gas gauge; to me it’s reading pretty low.

I ask Jeff, “You want to stop for gas? Do we have enough?”
Jeff replies “Oh we’ve got plenty.”
Skeptically I say, “Really? You Sure?”
Jeff scowls “We Have Plenty”

Little do we know that the road to Dallas Texas is NOT flat.  We’re approaching uphill after uphill and I’m seeing that gas gauge inch closer and closer to E.  Finally it’s pretty clear that we are not going to make it to Van Horn Texas.  Unfortunately there are no diesel gas stations around that could fit our 33’ trailer and 20’ truck, so reluctantly Jeff pulls off the freeway and into an abandoned gas station.  Luckily we are carrying seven spare gallons of diesel. While Jeff is filling the tank I get out of the truck and stretch.  I look up at the trailer and see that the aluminum siding skin has peeled off the trailer at the front and runs about 6 feet back.  It looks like the peel of a banana except so much worse. I say to Jeff while pointing up, “That’s not good!”  Jeff looks over and his jaw just drops.  He states, “That isn’t good.”  So since our trailer ladder got ripped off in San Diego, we have no way to easily fix the trailer skin.  Jeff improvises the use of six used tires, stacks them up and uses them as a wobbly platform.  I’m trying to steady the tires as Jeff clambers up and attempts to fix the skin. And people wonder why women live longer.  So with seven gallons in the tank and the skin of the trailer tucked back in the seal, we make our way to Van Horn Texas.

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Adventure #7:
We find a really nice RV park and spend the night without any drama. Back on the road we go.  I use the app Trucker Path to find a diesel truck stop.  I step out of the truck and let Bogie take a pee.  While Jeff is fueling up I look at the trailer.  Once again we have banana peeling trailer skin in the same location.  Jeff’s temporary fix was indeed temporary.  So I walk over to Jeff and tell him the siding has come loose again.  While telling him this I see another part of the trailer skin that has separated.  I say to Jeff while pointing, “That’s not good.”  Jeff just says “SHIT!”  So we finish fueling and thankfully there are no wobbly tires around for Jeff to almost kill himself on, but there are these nice cement streetlight platforms that are not only high enough for Jeff to each the trailer top but are also steady!  So with power drill in hand and a couple of screws, Jeff once again clambers up and fixes the trailer.  Then with the remaining screws fixes the trailer on the other side.  Once repaired, back on the road we go!

Adventure #8:
Finally we make it to Grapevine Texas five minutes before the storage yard was about to close.  We unload our friend’s goods into her storage garage and away we go.  The plan is to stay the night in the driveway at our friends’ boyfriend’s house in Flower Mound. We pull into the driveway and set the trailer up for a much needed rest after a long day of driving.  The next day Jeff detached the truck from the trailer and we head to Home Depot to get supplies to make some serious trailer repairs.  Sealant – check, longer screws – Check! Back to the trailer!  So with a borrowed ladder the permanent repairs are made much more easily. That evening we make plans to visit with our friends in Fort Worth.  Along the way, Jeff spots one of the places he’s been dying to go for over three years!  It’s a truck stop called Buc-ees.  Buc-ees is HUGE!  There are 36 gas pumps!  There are even shopping carts for the store portion.  But this ain’t no normal convenience store!  HOLY HELL this is the mecha of all convenience stores.  Jeff’s face is showing a blend of pure joy on the verge of orgasmic to absolute amazement.  We’re walking around the store and Jeff finds a true gem.   It’s a t-shirt that reads “Got Beaver Nuggets?” On the back it reads “Be a lot cooler if you did”.  Jeff is in heaven.  So we get some snacks and a couple of shirts and away we go to meet our friends.  I must admit I really wish we had Buc-ees in San Diego, they really are amazing places.  From country nik nak decoration stuff to clothing to fudge and hot food, Buc-ees has it all.

Adventure #9:
Friday morning we are scheduled to head back west to San Diego.  As we’re leaving Flower Mound I’m checking the Doppler radar and all I see is a HUGE patch of red and yellow Doppler warnings all throughout Texas and New Mexico – This should be interesting.  While it did rain hard almost all the way to New Mexico it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first storm we had been through.  However it was strong enough to damage the trailer AGAIN!  This time the fiberglass siding under the 5th wheel hitch has come loose.  We pull into a Loves truck stop and Jeff climbs into the back of the truck with power drill and screws in hand and screws the fiberglass back into place.
I comment to Jeff, “I think this is a sign to retire the trailer”
Jeff says reluctantly, “I think you might be right”

 

Adventure #10:
We have driven through New Mexico and are in the high desert of Arizona approaching the mountains.  We took the scenic route and it truly is beautiful! The landscape goes from high desert scrub to majestic pines in just a matter of miles.  As we head through the mountains we get a text message from one of our San Diego friends: “Hey we are at the San Diego airport heading to Scottsdale!” We text back “Meet for lunch in Scottsdale?”  So a couple of hours later, the timing is just right and we meet our friends for a quick sandwich lunch.  What a small world!

Adventure #11:
As we leave Phoenix and are crossing the desert plains we hear that familiar, Bing Bing Bing, and again the check engine light comes on.  Jeff rolls his eyes and I heave a deep sigh. “PISS ANT MOTHER F$#KER!” This time we agree, we’re throwing caution to the wind and continuing through the desert ignoring what could be impending doom.  Thankfully that doom is a mere inconvenience in gas mileage.  We were getting around 14 MPG before the check engine light.  After the light it dropped to around 8 MPG.  Probably the O2 sensor again.  Our plan is to make it our river place in Yuma and have an actual bed to sleep on.  Surprisingly that plan comes flawlessly into place and we arrive at Hidden Shores without any further engine problems. So the next morning we leave Yuma and head back to Alpine where we store the trailer.  Thankfully the truck didn’t give us any further problems and thankfully the trailer didn’t decide to shed anymore skin along the way.

Even though our trip was funded by the National Lampoon Vacation fund, I can look back on it now and just shake my head in amazement of all we experienced.  Through all the adventures; the ladder, the tire, the engine, the trailer continually wanting to get naked, it still was a fun trip that I’d do all over again if a friend needed us to.  I think next time however, I might bump up my life insurance before I do…

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There’s nothing that chaps my hide more than visiting off-road areas which you would expect to be pristine, be instead literally covered in piss jugs, litter, tires, trash, etc.  Unfortunately a small minority of off-road idiots do everything wrong from not keeping to actual designated trails and destroying habitats to leaving their trash where they camped.  It’s really disgusting that these kinds of people are even associated with the average off-roader or off-roading group.  I simply do not understand why they don’t  TREAD LIGHTLY or PACK IT IN/PACK IT OUT!!! Their actions affect ALL off-roaders and give us all a bad reputation.  Unfortunately years ago due to inconsiderate and destructive off-roaders, several off-road trails on an Indian Reservation here in San Diego were closed.  Well the Toyota Land Cruiser Association San Diego Chapter called Beach N Toys is trying to change the bad reputation of off-roaders from years past.

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Beach N Toys has been actively trying to repair the damage done by these unruly rogue off-roaders.  This past Sunday the Reservation granted our club rare access to previously closed trails to clean up trash and do some much needed trail maintenance.  The Reservation was greatly appreciative that a group of responsible off-roads was willing to do the dirty work created by others who have a careless attitude towards the environment and the sovereignty of the Indian Nation to which the land belongs.

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Sunday morning the club met at a cafe near Lake Henshaw then headed towards the Reservation to meet with the tribe’s sheriff.  After obtaining keys to various locked gates throughout the trails we headed to the first camping area.  Thankfully the first campsite is clean and there’s virtually zero trash that needs to be picked up.  After regrouping, we headed out on the off-road trails to the backside campsite and unfortunately came across a brand new gate with a lock that wasn’t included in our set of gate keys.  Unfortunately the keys to this gate were on a different set which were not included in the keys we were given.  So we all turned around and headed to a trail called Rough Road which goes to an old fire observation tower.  Once we got to the tower we could see the signs of litter.  Most of the litter however is broken pieces of wood from the deteriorating fire tower.  But there are shards of broken beer bottles and Plexiglas everywhere!  So, out comes the beach N toys trash bags and we all start gathering as much of the broken glass and rubbish as we can.

We started headed back down Rough Road but diverted at the Y to a road that connects further down on Rough Road.  We can tell it hasn’t been travelled in a while as the shrubs are crowding the trail and brushing up against the trucks.  More than once we came across trees that had fallen on the trail.  One tree was large enough that we needed to winch it off the trail then chainsaw it into pieces.

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Overall it was a great day.
Great that our group cares enough to help repair the damage done by others.
Great that we’re rebuilding a relationship with the tribe and attempting to prove that there are responsible off-road still out in the world.
And great that everyone completed the trip without any problems or breakdowns.

Granted we have a long way to go, but our club is one of the few groups who are actively trying to help and that makes me very proud to be an off-roader.

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After months of hunting, we happily welcomed a new addition to our off-road stable on Monday.  For the last six months we have been searching Craigslist, IH8MUD, and various other off-road forums to locate the elusive 1994-1996 Toyota Land Cruiser preferably with Lockers.  When we finally located something good, we found that the truck had already been sold in the past hour or sometimes just minutes ago.  We had traveled hundreds of miles to view vehicles that were listed as “Good Condition” only to show up and find the entire undercarriage of the truck is covered in rust or oil and the gas tank is being held up by a piece of rope.  To say we were disappointed with the availability of quality trucks within our price range was an understatement.

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Thankfully about two weeks ago a friend of ours heard through the Cruiser grapevine that a quality FJ80 might go on the market soon.  It was a Gray Toyota 1996 FJ80, with Lockers and only 167,700 miles.  It already had front and rear bumpers, a winch, a 3” lift and even came with an awesome radio and a CB.  Although it was slightly out of our initial budget, it was everything we wanted.  As soon as that rumor was out, we were trying to get in contact with the seller.  Unfortunately one of our other cruiser friends was also in the hunt for a new-used cruiser as well.  We didn’t want to undercut our friend, but thankfully our friend found out that we were hot to trot on the truck, he backed out and put in a good word for us with the seller.  To our excitement the seller agreed to sell the truck and we exchanged money for the title on Monday!  I had a smile ear to ear as we drove it home.

 

BUT with the smiles comes the tears.  Since the addition of the FJ80, we’ll now need to say goodbye to our old 1983 CJ7 Jeep, lovingly named El Blanco.  We’ve done multiple overnight off-road trips with El Blanco and lately he’s completed every off-road challenge flawlessly.  It’s funny, when you put so many man-hours into restoring and fixing a vehicle it starts to develop a personality and earns small place in your heart.  I can still remember selling my very first truck that I bought at 16 with my own hard earned money.  Years later, I cried the day it drove way with its new owner.  I will miss El Blanco when we finally sell it.  Even though he’s old, he’s a fun and quirky little Jeep.  Like a breeder selling a puppy, I won’t let El Blanco go to anyone “unworthy”.

 

So, soon we’ll be making new memories, taking new adventures, and undoubtedly working well into the night tinkering with our new treasure for many years to come.  The only thing now is to come up with an appropriate name for the new ride.

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For some of you that follow my blog, you’ll recall an older post about our 1983 CJ7 Jeep, lovingly named El Blanco.  We purchased El Blanco for $4000 and have put roughly about $2000 into him to make him trail worthy.   This last weekend all his upgrades got put to the test as we spent three days traversing the Mojave Road Trail.  The Mojave Road Trail is the famous trail that brought American Pioneers to California.  The trail is very unique to this day in the fact that most of the trail is still in the condition it was when the pioneers traveled.  The trail is approximately 140 miles long starting from an old Military fort and ending at Zzyzx Road.  We added on a couple additional miles by starting in Laughlin.  Traveling along the Mojave Road isn’t just any picnic.  There are virtually no trail markers along the way.  You’ll constantly be needing to check your trail map to make sure you’re on the actual Mojave Road.  Thankfully, “Friends of the Mojave Road” erected rock cairns at some intersections to show the way.  As long as these rock cairns are on your right side, you’re still on the trail.  However when it came to some washes, these cairns had been washed away so staying on the trail became pretty challenging.

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El Blanco was one of four Jeeps, three Land Cruisers and one Toyota Truck that made this journey together.  El Blanco was the oldest vehicle in our group and his old technology just couldn’t keep up with the newer suspensions of the other Jeeps and Land Cruisers.  Yet even through our slowness and the creaking and groaning of El Blanco’s 1983 parts, we completed the trip without a single hitch!

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We started the trip in Laughlin Nevada on Saturday morning.  At the trail head most of the Land Cruisers and Jeeps aired down the tires to around 20 PSI.  It really is amazing how much of a difference lower air pressure can be for the ride comfort factor especially on washboard sections.

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Our first stop was the military fort that kept the Mohave Indians in check while the pioneers were using the trail as the “Old West Highway”.  Today all that’s left of the fort is some old fencing, building foundations and real petroglyphs on rocks.

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We continued along the trail, which by the afternoon became pretty rough.  We all turned on our 4-wheel low and just rock crawled over some sketchy sections of the trail.  I can’t imagine horse drawn wagons going over this terrain.   It must have been one rough ride with many wagon wheel changes along the way.

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As the skies got darker and darker, we diverted off the Mojave Road and approached our first base camp for the night at Mid Hills.  We were at approximately 5,123 feet in elevation and it was freezing.  There was a strong wind blowing which made the outside temperature feel even colder.  As everyone finished setting up their tents for the night it was great to sit around the camp fire and talk about the days’ adventure.  That night was a COLD night.  Even with my 30 degree sleeping bag and me wearing socks and a jacket inside the sleeping bag, I was cold.  Finally the morning came and with it the warmth of the sun.  Slowly everyone packed up their camp and we were back on the trail.

Day 2 took us through some AMAZING Joshua tree forests.  The beauty of the scenery is amazing.  It’s incredible how you can distinctly see elevation changes in the landscape.  From desert scrub to Joshua trees to cedars and junipers.  Each live in a distinct elevation and you’ll see it switch from one landscape to another in just a couple miles.  Once back on the trail we made our way to the next landmark.  It’s a collection of money, survival gear, traveler’s signing book and frogs.  Yup you read that right… frogs.  Just past the monument there is a HUGE collection of various frog statues.  There are hundreds of frogs, some the size of large boulders.  Some small as a dime. Just past the frogs was a collection of bobble heads and past that a, collection of toy trucks.  So if you’re going to be traveling along the Mojave Road, bring a frog, a bobble head and a toy truck to add to the collection.

Around noon we diverted off the Mojave Road and made our way to the Lava Tubes to explore and have lunch.  Unfortunately the road to the Lava Tubes has the WORST washboards I’ve even been on.  It was so bad that both El Blanco and another Jeep’s hard top bolts loosened up and was rattling something fierce.  The Lava Tubes are amazing.  I really didn’t even know that volcanoes were so plentiful in Nevada/California, but you see the evidence of extinct volcanoes and domes everywhere.  The entrance to the Lava Tube is a staircase and unfortunately I noticed evidence of a recent tube collapse on the opposite side and saw the various cracks in the ceiling of the tube, so for me entering the tube was a definite NOPE.  However others in the group had no problem going into cave and snapping pictures.  They said it was amazing, and I’m sure they’re right, but I just didn’t feel warm and fuzzy about going into that cave.

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Around the late afternoon, J and I noticed that the gas gauge on El Blanco was reading ¼ full.  Yes we brought extra gas (6 gallons) but we had no idea if El Blanco’s gas gauge was even reading correctly.  There was another older Jeep and an older Land Cruiser that were also running a little low on fuel, so it was decided that us three vehicles would divert from the group just before the salt flats and make our way to Baker to refuel while the others scouted a base camp for the night.  I am SOOOOO glad that we did refuel, as even if we had used our 6 gallon backup, the sandy washes on the third day would have used up more than what we had allocated as a backup.  After refueling, we made our way back to the main group and the camp for the night.  Even though this base camp was at a much lower elevation (sea level) by 2:00 in the morning it was colder than at 5,125 feet.

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For you off-roading/camping/backpacking ladies… You know that doing your business with a group of people and with very little tree, bush cover can be challenging.  Hence the reason I purchased a FUD (Female Urine Device) just for this trip.  We nick named it Lady Jane!  Basically it’s a funnel like device that allows women to stand up and pee!  It’s a miracle!  No more squatting freezing your butt off while cowering behind a scrub bush.  Instead, unzip pants, arrange Lade Jane and pee like a BOSS!  Worth every penny!

On day 3 we were to traverse over the salt flats.  Depending the area rain, this section can be a nightmare.  Numerous people who didn’t pay attention to weather reports have attempted to cross, and got stuck halfway through.  But since it hadn’t rained in two weeks, we had no problems crossing.  At the edge of the flats there’s a travelers monument where each traveler deposits a rock onto the pile.  There’s also a geocache and a plaque in the middle of the pile.  I’m not allowed to tell you what the plaque reads as that’s part of the Mojave Road trail etiquette – DO NOT SHARE WHAT THE PLAQUE READS.  People wanting to know what the plaque reads need to travel there!

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There are two water crossings on the Mojave Road.  The first crossing was very minor, just a small slow moving steam.  The second crossing however was rather deep and for us nubie off-roaders, created some serious pucker factor.  We were the last vehicle in our group and we watched one by one each vehicle go across the water.  The plan was to put it into 4-wheel drive and NEVER let off the gas as to prevent water from being sucked up into the exhaust.  So as our turn neared, we crossed our fingers and slowly pulled into the water.  The water was probably a little under waist deep and halfway through we quickly learned that El Blanco is not watertight.  Shortly after submerging into the crossing, water was seeping through the doors crevices and even through the gear shifter!  We could hear the gurgling of the exhaust underwater and unfortunately we stalled 2/3rd the way through. But tried and true El Blanco started back up and pulled out of the water, draining from every crack, rust hole, and door crevice.

Past the water crossings you’ll enter the sandy washes.  This is where referring to the trail map is a must.  Some of the rock cairns has been washed away so it can be difficult to read which path you need to take.  More than once we had to double back or trail blaze to get back on the real Mojave Road.  This is also the section that you need to make sure you have enough gas.  Sand not only sucks up gas faster but also heats up engines quick.  One of the Jeeps learned this the hard way.  During the river crossing some mud and muck had built up on the radiator and blocked the airflow to cool the vehicle.  This caused some serious overheating the resulted in a cracked radiator.  But with a little bit of help from some JB Weld and some replacement water, the jeep was good to go!  NOTE:  If you’re going to off-roading anywhere – BRING JB WELD!!!  It’s a lifesaver!!!

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As we neared the end of the Mojave Road, J and I celebrated that El Blanco made the trip without a single problem!  All the effort going into making him trail capable was well worth it.  We were so grateful that we all made it out safe and were with such great friends.

 

Have a 4-wheel drive vehicle?  Then you MUST make this three day journey at some point in your life.  The scenery is amazing!  It’s not the simplest of trails, but if a nubie like J and I can do it, you can too!  Below are some notes just in case you do decide to run this trail.

 

Vehicle Paint – You will scratch your paint.  There are some sections of the trail that are narrow and you will brush against branches.

Gas – BRING EXTRA GAS!!!

Map – Refer to your trail map constantly!

Group – Travel in a group of people.  Most parts of the trail are in the middle of nowhere and miles and miles from help!

Insurance – Bring several tubes of JB Weld, extra tools/parts and water; Just in case.

Warmth – Bring jackets and warm clothes.  Even though you’re in the desert, the nights are frigid!

HAVE FUN!  – The comradery of the group you’re with, being isolated from civilization, combined with the beauty of the Mojave Road simply can’t be beat!

 

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There are some birthdays throughout one’s life that are true milestones.  These birthdays can include:

13 (Earning that “Teen Badge” and some serious attitude that comes along with it)

16 (Earning the License to Drive, and a means to escape the house)

18 (Earning the ability to Vote!)

21 (Cheers to binge drinking and damaging the liver!)

40 (Here’s to being middle aged and officially at the top of the hill!)

Last year one of my friends said that she wanted to celebrate her upcoming 40th birthday by going somewhere special.  That special place was going to be Iceland.  She asked a couple friends if we wanted to come join her on this 40th birthday adventure.  So there we were, three girls planning a 9 day vacation to Iceland!

View of Iceland

View of Iceland

The trip was planned for middle October 2015, but we started planning our trip well in advance.  In April we booked our flights via WOW Airlines from Boston to Keflavik Iceland and by July 2015 I booked a two bedroom cottage in Sangerdi just outside of Keflavik.   Things were coming in to place and we were getting so excited as the days counted down.

Our Sangerdi Cottage

Our Sangerdi Cottage

Everything was coming into place.  We had booked some tours in advance but most of them we booked directly at the Iceland tourist center when we arrived.  I was coming in two days later as I had to work a trade show in Orlando.  Knowing that I was going to go from the 80 degree weather in Orlando to 32 degree weather in Iceland, I packed two separate suitcases.  One for Orlando and one for Iceland.  The Orlando bag I sent home with a co-worker.  As the day of departure for Iceland came, I had that familiar panic attack of “WHERE THE HELL IS MY PASSPORT?!  Oh yeah, here it is.  Right where it’s been for the last four days…” That happened a couple more times on the connecting flights over to Boston.

We flew WOW Airlines which is Iceland’s UBER economic airline.  WOW is so economical that they charge you for water!  The flight attendants are dressed in these vintage purple dresses with little flight attendant caps.  It’s all very charming even when they take your money for a glass of water.  But I prepared well and brought my trusty HydroFlask.  The flight going to Iceland is approximately 5 hours.  Really not so bad at all.  The best part is that leaving from Boston at 7:30pm means that as the plane passes over Greenland and heads towards Iceland you just might get to see the Arora Borealis.  Thankfully my window seat faced north and I was able to see the northern lights.  Unfortunately they weren’t the vivid bright green hues that you see in “I WAS HERE” postcards.  The lights I saw were a pale green that morphed to white.  It really is fascinating the way the lights dance and move about.  Truly mesmerizing.

It was completely dark when the plane landed in Iceland at 4:05AM.  The other two girls came to pick me up at the airport and we drove back to the cottage for me to get some sleep.  I arrived on a Tuesday and all that was planned for the day was to tour the main city of Reykjavik and visit the Penis Museum.   You read that right… The world famous Penis Museum in Iceland.  Dedicated to various exhibits of the Penis.  We arrived at the museum and you are surrounded by penises.  From the smallest penis of some kind of shrew to the largest penis of the blue whale, this museum has a specimen from hundreds of species.  Penises in jars, taxidermy penises, Penis telephones, Penis and testicle water vessels and even Penis bones!  It’s a giant world of the PENIS!

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On the Penis Phone

At the Penis Museum

At the Penis Museum with a giant elephant dick behind us.

What’s really nice about Iceland is that everyone speaks English.  I don’t mean this as the typical arrogant American who expects everyone in a foreign country to speak English.  But in Iceland they speak Icelandic.  Which in itself is a very difficult language and because it’s only spoken in Iceland, the residents do not expect to hear their native tongue spoken by foreigners.  Granted we did learn the familiar phrases like thanks (Tak) and hello (Hallo), but otherwise everyone spoke English.  Funny thing is that Icelandic people learn English from watching American and British television shows.

If there’s one thing we learned while on this travel adventure is if you want some keepsakes that aren’t the typical tourist trap crap, then go to the goodwill or what they call the RedCross in Iceland.  It’s a secondhand shop very similar to what we have in the US.  So instead of buying a brand new Icelandic scarf for over $100 I bought a secondhand Icelandic scarf for $13!  The same goes for if you wanted one of those Icelandic jumpers (Icelandic hand knit wool sweater).  They sell for over $120, but at the secondhand shop they were $30.  Not too shabby!  So hit the secondhand shop for souvenirs!

The other very very strange custom in Iceland is that parents who take their babies to dinner leave the children OUTSIDE the restaurant in their stroller.  YUP! You heard me right.  The babies are left outside the restaurant in their baby carriages.  Granted the kids are bundled up tight in these cute baby sleeping bags and then the stroller is covered by this clear plastic rain fly.  But it was very strange to see two to three strollers outside the restaurant with babies inside the stroller waiting for the parents to finish dinner.  Could an American parent in the USA ever do such a thing without someone calling the police over child abandonment?  NEVER!  What about someone stealing the baby you ask?  Well crime in Iceland is virtually non-existent; so parents do not worry about someone kidnapping their waiting child.  It was actually very refreshing to see such faith and trust in a society as a whole and I greatly admire Iceland for that virtue.

Iceland is renowned for its fresh fish hauls and its grass fed lamb.  I truly have never had such fresh tasting fish.  One evening I even ate the traditional meal of lambs head with turnip puree and cauliflower mash.  It wasn’t weird eating the head of a lamb, what was weird to me is that it was served cold!  The cheek meat was very good and I would eat it over again, just maybe warmed up a bit.

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Eating the traditional Lambs Head

On Wednesday we had booked a horseback riding tour for six hours.  On the tour you’d ride for three hours have a lunch then go back on the trail for another three hours.  The trail horses were Icelandic Horses which are the ONLY horses allowed in Iceland.  They are small, stocky horses that are very furry and have cute personalities.  They also have a gait called the tolt.  It’s fast walking trot pace that is VERY comfortable! You basically wiggle in the saddle and that’s it!  IF you can get your horse to do it.  There’s a fine line between the Tolt and the Trot, and I had a hard time finding that line.  I’d get my horse to do it for a while, then he’d increase speed to the trot, a not so comfortable pace.  But overall it was a blast.  It wasn’t the typical horse tour “Let’s go for a slow walk on a horse.” Nope this was “OK Ready? Let’s tolt!” or “Ok ready for the gallop?”  We were moving!  Thankfully all us girls were experienced horse riders so we felt comfortable with all the various paces thrown at us.  If I go back to Iceland, I’m not doing any other tour except the horseback riding.

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My Icelandic horse “Emma”

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Us girls on our ride

On Thursday we decided to visit the world famous Blue Lagoon Spa.  After our six hour horseback ride the previous day, our butts and thighs would need the heated relaxation.  The Blue Lagoon is the “waste water” from a geo thermal heating plant.  The spa is HUGE and the temperature of the lagoon ranges from tepid to scalding.  There is a natural current in the lagoon that moves the heated water around so you’d be standing in one place then get a touch of very hot water followed by tepid water.  And the color of the water is a very pale white/blue.  One you stick your hand in the water you don’t see it anymore.  The water is supposed to be very good for your skin and heal many acne problems.  There are even stations throughout the lagoon with silica-clay buckets that visitors rub on their skin and let dry.  It’s kind of funny to see half the people walking around the lagoon waters looking like a geisha with white face makeup.  Even the men slather on the clay which is a sight to see.  The only bad thing about the “healing waters” is that because of the extremely high mineral content the spa is extremely drying to hair.  It was recommended that you put conditioner in your hair and wrap it in a bun and don’t rinse it out until you exit the spa.  There were a couple of stands of hair I missed that got wet in the spa and they felt like straw when I exited the spa.  Even our bathing suit fabric had this weird rough texture as the material dried.  After three hours of soaking in the thermal pools we decided to call it quits.  We had booked a caving touring later in the afternoon and it was time to get moving.

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The Blue Lagoon Heated Geo Thermal Spa

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The Blue Lagoon



Iceland is the land of fire and ice and volcanoes alive and dormant are scattered throughout the country.  These volcanoes during and after eruption can create long running lava tubes and these tubes make for some subterranean fun!  So we put on our caving helmets and crawled underground.  Some of the tubes had partially collapsed, which made for some interesting traversing.  I’m glad I had been working on my core strength because there were some sections of the lava tube cave that we had to plank across or frog crawl.  Minerals throughout the tube created a diamond dust like effect in some sections of the tube.  It was hard to capture in a picture, but it looks like diamonds are embedded in the rocks.  Halfway through the cave tour the leader told us to have a seat on the rocks and turn off all our lights.  For several minutes we just listened to the cave sounds.  The soft sound of dripping water.  The whisper of a cold cave breeze.  It was amazing how tranquil it was just sitting there on the rocks in the dark.

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The Lava Tube

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Getting ready to go caving

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Standing next to the Troll Tooth

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Glittering ceiling of the lave tube

On Friday we decided to not do any tours but instead drive halfway around the country.  We were hoping to make it to town called Hofn, however after making a couple of detours to see some amazing waterfalls we decided to stop in a very small town called Vik.  The first hotel we stopped at didn’t have any rooms available.  Which we thought was strange because there was only ONE car in the parking lot.  But the concierge pointed out another hotel that might have rooms available.  So we check it out and indeed they have one three-bed room available!  We’ll take it!  Come to learn that room was the only room left at the hotel because busloads of teenagers were arriving in an hour.  All I heard was “Hundreds” and “Teens” and my eyes got all squinty.  “Great!”  I imagined hundreds of teens rampaging up and down the hallways of the hotel all night long.  In preparation for the “Teen Horde” we decided to visit the hotel restaurant early.  Ah this is nice… The three of us, sitting in the restaurant; soft gentle music playing, sipping our Icelandic wine. Then a moment of pure terror as the first bus load of teens arrive.  One after another stepping off the bus. Will it ever end?!  Then another bus arrives! Then another!  All the teens having arrived now are stampeding towards the front desk!  Thankfully we are halfway finished with dinner when the first group of teenagers arrive at the restaurant.  Heather and I have prepared our eye daggers in the event of teenage disorderly conduct.  We are expecting the usual unruly group of teens who are loud, obnoxious, rude and generally uncaring about anyone else except themselves.  Thankfully we are beyond surprised when these teens sit at their table quietly, get their meal from a prepared buffet and eat respectfully.  WOW! That wasn’t a bad experience at all! Not at all what I expected.  Perhaps the teens weren’t in our section of the hotel, but if they were we didn’t hear a peep from them all night long.  Who would have guessed you could get a good night sleep when the hotel guests are 90% teens.  AMAZING!

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Our vehicle passenger description to a tee!

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In the small town of Vik

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Standing next to a gianatic glacier

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On Saturday we decided to continue our drive towards Hofn however we made two detours.  One for a plane crash on the lava sands beach and to walk a two hour hike towards the Column waterfall.  The hike was amazing, the views spectacular.  There was a bitterly cold wind blowing on the hike so we donned our beard hats!  The hike had taken a little longer than expected so we decided to start our journey home to Sangerdi which was at least a five hour drive.  It’s interesting, in Iceland they believe in the “Unseen People” AKA Trolls and elves.  So if there are a grouping of rocks that looks like a troll or elf home, instead of destroying the rocks to make way for a road, they’ll build the road around the rocks.  There were several spots on our drive home of rocks with tufts of grass growing out of the tops that looked just like trolls just sitting on the rocks.

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It’s Beard Hat Time!


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We were scheduled to leave Iceland on Sunday afternoon.  So as soon as we arrived at our cottage, we started packing.  Packing seemed like it took forever.  But eventually everything was packed, and the cottage was cleaned.  The flight home was exceptionally long because of a severe headwind.  Instead of 5 hours, the headwind added an additional hour to the trip.  We were hoping to see icebergs as we flew over Greenland, but the skies below us were cloudy from the moment we took off till the moment we landed in Boston.  Since we were arriving late in Boston on Sunday we decided to stay one night in Boston fly home the next day.

Overall it was an amazing trip.  I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to go on this adventure and celebrate a birthday milestone with two close friends.  Would I go to Iceland again?  Hell yeah!  After all said and done it was actually a fairly inexpensive trip even though Iceland can be very pricey.  We three girls contributed to everything.  We shared the cost of the cottage, the food we cooked, the rental car, etc.  It made for a very affordable adventure.  Looking for an exciting vacation where you aren’t just being lazy?  Explore what Iceland has to offer. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

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A week ago J and I took a small vacation to Pahrump Nevada.  Pahrump Nevada?  Why the hell would anyone want to take a vacation to Pahrump Nevada?  Because Pahrump is the home of Front Sight Firearms Training center where we usually take our shooting classes.  However for this vacation no guns were needed.  J and I decided to take an open handed combat and edged weapons class.

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So what is open handed combat and edged weapons class and why did we take it?  Open handed combat is learning how to defend yourself against an attacker using his fists (no weapons) and learning how to deflect any blows or kicks directed towards your body.  Edged weapons class was learning how to use a knife and how to defend yourself against a knife attack.  So why did J and I take these classes?  1. Because I think it’s always good to be prepared. 2. Since I always carry a knife with me anyways I think it’s best to know how to properly use it to defend myself.

So we arrive to class and they tell us to pair up with someone of similar size so there’s a middle aged woman a little smaller than me that I’m paired up with.  J is paired up with her husband who coincidentally is his size as well.  So class begins with learning how to effectively throw a series of punches and kicks.  Since I’ve taken kickboxing before I was familiar with how to both punch and kick but since I haven’t punched anything in some time, after about ten minutes of punching a practice pad with my bare hands my knuckles were black and blue.  Thankfully my knuckles got a break after lunch as we transferred to learning about elbow punches and kicks.  My partner was very timid and whenever she kicks or hits me, it’s like a little rabbit is poking me.  There’s no power behind her punches and her kicks are like she accidentally bumped me.  From my kickboxing days, I would come home with black and blue abs and obliques from my partner’s kicks and punches even through a practice pad.  One of the instructors sees that she’s really not inflicting any damage on me and pulls her aside to tell her she needs to back up those punches and kicks with power.  She needs to try and at least move me from my braced position.  This unfortunately starts the waterworks.  She breaks down crying saying that she doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  After some time the instructors calm her down and we resume sparring.  Although her punches really never do increase in power.

They warned us at the beginning of these classes that we would get some bruises from various blocking and wrist hold techniques.   Some is an understatement.  As class completed on the first day and I surveyed my arms and legs, I’m covered in bruises.  My forearms look like those of a serious drug pusher from all the small dark bruises from blocking punches.  Even now a week later, I still have bruises in various stages of healing.  The ones on my legs are now greenish yellow and the ones on my arms are yellow brown.

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On day three the edged weapons class begins.  We are given practice knives and we’re taught the proper fighting stance for when you have a knife in your hand.  So whenever the instructors say “FIGHT” you need to drop whatever you’re doing and get in your fighting stance with knife deployed.  From a folded knife in your pocket, to knife out and ready needs to happen in less than one second.  The first couple of quick draw practices has several people in the class accidentally losing control of their knives and they go flying with the flick of their wrist.  As the day progresses whenever a student drops a knife an instructor races towards it to take it away from the student.  We learn that if we drop that knife we better get it back in our hands ASAP.

For the next two days we’re taught how to effectively fight with fist and knife at the same time, and how to handle any knife attacks and how to disarm the opponent through a series of arm bars, kimura arm bars and various wrist locks.  This unfortunately creates even more bruises on my arms and I walk away from class at the end of the day looking like a domestic abuse victim.  The bruises are so obvious that when I ordered dinner at the Mad Greek, the guy at the counter asked me about them.  I explained that I was taking a combat class at Front Sight but I’m not sure he believed me.

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The best part about the class is you have to put all your newly learning skills to a series of real world tests.  The five instructors are the aggressors and you need to survive their assault.  You would think that the instructors would take it easy on students, but NOPE.  They are very aggressive and attack quickly.  They attack you from a standing position and you need to defend yourself and deploy your knife as soon as possible. Sometimes they push you to the ground and you need to get back to your feet while they are trying to assault you.  That is much harder to do than you think.  As soon as you get to your feet you need to get to your knife, however the entire time the instructor is trying to get the knife from you or prevent you from deploying the knife.  On one of my scenarios the instructor grabs my wrist and prevents me from getting my knife, but with my other hand I eventually get the knife while we’re wrestling and I’m stabbing him in his groin with my other hand.  You need to fight against each instructor three times and by the time I’ve fought each instructor three times, I’m exhausted.  The adrenaline is flowing and you walk away from each session shaking from the adrenaline but excited to try again.

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By the end of the last day, all my muscles are sore, I’m covered in bruises and I’m physically and mentally exhausted.  Although my vacation wasn’t a relaxing one, it did give me a new perspective on protecting myself.  While I’m not going to look to get into any fights, I’m sure if I was provoked to protect myself I wouldn’t be a typical victim who doesn’t know what to do.  The confidence that you get by your new skills is very empowering.  The knife that I usually carry, an old Spyderco knife wasn’t a quick deploy and even after greasing it I couldn’t flick it open quickly without using two hands.  So as a present to myself for completing the class I purchased a new SOG and it has a lightning fast deploy with just a quick easy wrist flick.  It’s awesome and only leaves my hip when I go to bed or have to travel.  I’m definitely going to take both these classes again in the near future just because the skills they taught were so valuable.  I really hope I never actually need to use these skills, but I’m glad I have the knowledge just in case I do need to protect myself.

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New Seats On AA Flights!

I fly quite often on business.  Fortunately for me I get to book my own flights to wherever my destination may be.  My choice airline is American as I have quite a few thousand miles and I get upgraded to first class on occasion.

Well one of my trips was going to take me to Florida so I booked flight with a layover in Dallas.  After I purchased my flight I went back to choose the seats that I want just in case I’m not upgraded to first class.  On this particular flight apparently American Airlines added a new “Thrill” seat as shown below.

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This particular seat, Number -A14 was located outside the plane just before the wing!  I tried like hell to book this seat but unfortunately the seat was already grayed which meant that the seat had already been booked.  DAMN IT MAN!!  I so wanted to feel the 595 MPH wind gently blow across my face as we flew over Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

I’ve had numerous business trips since my trip to Florida but I have never come across the -A14 seat again.  😦

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